Monthly Archives: December 2017

Film Review: Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool

Film Review: Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool

Rule of thumb: film projects that are “in the making” for decades tend to yield mediocre cinema. Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool, the adaptation of Peter Turner’s 1986 memoir about Gloria Grahame, both proves and disproves this rule. The film has palpable chemistry between the two leads, and smart use of musical selections. However, the production design can be distracting at times. Some choices regarding cinematography seem to have been made from budgetary, not artistic, considerations.

Peter Turner (Jamie Bell) was a struggling young actor in 1979 when a glamorous new neighbor caught his attention. It turned out to be 1950s femme fatale Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening), living in London because of a role in a stage play. Despite a 29-year age difference, the two became friends and then lovers.

Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool uses a framing device, in which the desperately ill Grahame begs Turner to let her stay with him and his family. Matt Greenhalgh’s nonlinear script provides key moments in the Grahame/Turner relationship-its beginning, times of joy, and its complications.

Bell and Bening are well cast as the May-December lovers. Bening captures Grahame’s signature mannerisms (the pout, the fluty voice, the strut/walk) without edging into caricature. The escalating sexual tension between these characters, as well as the affair that results, is effectively conveyed. Julie Walters and Vanessa Redgrave contribute strong performances as their respective mothers.

At the same time, I am a bit puzzled by this film, both by what it chooses to show and what it chooses to omit. The filmmakers act as if Gloria Grahame is still a household name-hardly the case, except to film buffs and those who saw her work when originally released. Today, most people would recognize her as Violet, the young woman who tries to seduce George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life. The filmmakers never mention this film; instead, they include a small clip of Grahame from 1954’s Naked Alibi. I am surprised by their failure to include the one film performance Turner had actually seen prior to meeting her-Angel in 1952’s The Greatest Show On Earth.

Grahame’s brilliant performance from 1950’s In A Lonely Place is only mentioned in the context of a memento from co-star Humphrey Bogart, while there are no references at all to 1953’s The Big Heat. The film contains footage of Grahame’s Oscar win for 1952’s The Bad And The Beautiful, a role where she played distinctly against type. If you do not already know Gloria Grahame’s screen persona, you would be hard pressed to discern it from Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool.

In similar fashion, the filmmakers provide spotty information about Grahame’s personal life. There are hints of sibling rivalry in a scene where Turner and Grahame entertain her mother and sister, but no background as to its cause. It would be helpful to know that Grahame’s sister, actress Joy Hallward, never achieved major success in films. Again, this is hardly common knowledge for a modern day audience.

Elements of the production design-like the wallpaper, which could be a character all by itself-threaten to overwhelm the actors at times.

There are relatively few long shots in the film- cinematographer Urszula Pontikos works primarily in close-ups with a small number of medium shots. This could be explained by the intimate nature of the story. However, the use of long shots makes me wonder if budgetary issues were a factor. Long shots in the film tend to be locations (New York, Los Angeles) conveyed through the use of rear-projected backdrops. This device quickly becomes predictable and unconvincing.

On the other hand, I think J. Ralph’s scoring works very well. The musical selections range from disco to an Elvis Costello song written especially for the film, “You Shouldn’t Look At Me That Way.”

Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool works as the story of two mismatched people who fall in love, separate, and reunite when one has a time of great need. Just do not watch it expecting to learn much about Gloria Grahame.

Theme: Star Biopics

Related Posts: Film Appreciation: My Week With Marilyn  http://www.thinkingcinema.com/film-appreciation-my-week-with-marilyn/

Star Biopics: List For Week Ending December 24, 2017  http://www.thinkingcinema.com/star-biopics-list-for-week-ending-december-24-2017/

Film Appreciation: My Week With Marilyn

Film Appreciation: My Week With Marilyn

My Week With Marilyn (2011) has little to distinguish it beyond a strong performance by Michelle Williams in the leading role. This is not from want of trying. Simon Curtis’ film is handsomely produced, with a cast of talented performers in addition to Williams. Yet, somehow, the overall production comes off as a little tooContinue Reading

Thinking Cinema Schedule Change

Thinking Cinema Schedule Change

Effective immediately, Thinking Cinema will change from a weekly to biweekly posting schedule. It will appear next on January 5, 2018. The change is necessary due to additional writing projects that I will begin in January. I am committed to continuing Thinking Cinema and appreciate your support.

Film Review: Downsizing

Film Review: Downsizing

Downsizing, the new film by Alexander Payne, is highly interesting if uneven. Payne and co-author Jim Taylor start with an intriguing premise-that the problems of overpopulation can be overcome by shrinking humans to a size of around six inches. The cost of living decreases as well, making “small” individuals into overnight millionaires. There is onlyContinue Reading

Ecological Solutions: List For Week Ending December 17, 2017

Ecological Solutions: List For Week Ending December 17, 2017

Our films this week feature unique solutions to environmental problems. The issue might be overpopulation (Downsizing, Soylent Green), resource allocation (Avatar), or a planet’s survival (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home). Films with this theme can be in several different genres, ranging from satire to sci fi. This is not intended as an all-inclusive list.Continue Reading

Film Review: I, Tonya

Film Review: I, Tonya

Even if you do not follow Olympic figure skating, chances are you have heard of Tonya Harding-and probably not much good. Craig Gillespie’s new film I, Tonya aims to set the record straight, or at least provide mitigating circumstances for her behavior. The result is a darkly comic film with real-life villains straight out ofContinue Reading

Film Appreciation: To Die For

Film Appreciation: To Die For

Gus Van Sant’s 1995 film adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel is equal parts dark comedy, noir, and media satire. The script by Buck Henry does an outstanding job of maintaining tone and tension. Acting throughout is spot-on, starting with a bravura performance by Nicole Kidman in the lead role. To Die For opens with gloomyContinue Reading